Red X iconGreen tick iconYellow tick icon
Students at a cafe in the Octagon

Correct referencing

What does referencing mean?

It means acknowledging:

  • What the idea is
  • Who the idea came from
  • When the idea was published
  • Where the idea was published

Why do I have to reference?

Referencing (sometimes called citing or citation) means including the source of information or ideas you have used in your thinking and writing. Referencing has three main important purposes:

  1. Referencing as a courtesy. By referencing you show respect for the work of others and acknowledge their contribution to your writing, thoughts and ideas.
  2. We reference so that other people can access and use the original source to develop new knowledge. Referencing helps knowledge to be developed, communicated and verified. When you reference you must provide enough information that someone else can find the same source.
  3. Referencing helps you develop an academic identity. It allows you to separate your ideas from those of others. It is a way of using evidence to support your ideas and arguments and so it gives your work academic integrity and credibility. It also shows your readers the scope and depth of your reading and thinking.

How can I use another's ideas and produce 'original' work?

One of the goals of a University education is to develop academic independence in your thinking and writing; to produce original work. Students often find it very confusing to produce 'original' work and, at the same time, use the ideas or other people. Using your own words or paraphrasing, summarising and reproducing quotations are writing skills that may involve using another's work. You are expected to develop and use these skills to form your argument and it is this that makes your work original. However, you must acknowledge the source of other's ideas or you are in danger of plagiarising.

Using and referencing the work and ideas of others helps you to:

  • Emphasise or argue a position with which you agree or disagree
  • Provide support for claims or add credibility to your writing
  • Give different points of view
  • Integrate information by assessing, comparing, contrasting or evaluating it to show understanding
  • Provide a base for your work
  • Emphasise relevant points by quoting the original

What do I reference?

You must provide a reference when you use:

  • Direct quotations i.e. coping another's words verbatim
  • Your own words to paraphrase or summarise another's work
  • Another's ideas that you have borrowed
  • Facts that are not common knowledge

There is normally no need to reference when you are writing about your own experiences or observations. Examples include your own experimental results, your own insights, your own thought and your own conclusions about a subject. Common knowledge, such as some facts, folklore, commonsense observations and shared information within your field of study or cultural group does not need to be referenced.

If you are unsure about when to refer to a source, include a reference.

How do I reference?

Different academic styles of referencing are used in different knowledge areas. For example, APA (American Psychological Association) style is often used in Education or Social Sciences.

Find out the academic style used in your programme and learn to use it consistently. If you are unsure of what style to use check your course book or with your lecturer. Details about different referencing or citation styles can be found under 'Quicklinks' on the Library homepage.

Academic styles include more information about referencing. They were developed for use in academic journals so they often suggest different levels and forms of headings to use in your writing, advice about gender specific language, appropriate punctuation, and so on. This kind of information is very important if you are writing a thesis or journal article.

How do I use quotations?

A quotation is the work of another writer reproduced word for word. This means you must use the wording, spelling, punctuation, capitalisation and paragraphing (and any mistakes) in exactly the same way as the original source. It is also important to ensure the quote is used with the meaning the author intended. You might choose to quote directly from the work of others:

  • When the wording of the original is memorable or vivid and you cannot rewrite it any better
  • When the exact words of an authority would lend support to your own ideas
  • When you want to draw attention to the author's opinions, especially if that opinion differs greatly from other experts' opinions
  • When you copy diagrams, illustrations, charts or pictures

How you include a quotation in your text depends upon the referencing or academic style that you have been asked to use.

How do I paraphrase or summarise?

If you use another person's work and put it in your own words, you must still reference it.

Putting other people's ideas into your own words, or rewording something, is called paraphrasing. A paraphrase is your version of essential ideas and information expressed by someone else.

A summary is less detailed than a paraphrase, and is significantly shorter than the original, rephrasing just the main points.

You might choose to paraphrase or summarise the work of others when the:

  • Ideas are more important than the author's authority or style
  • Original language is not particularly memorable, but the ideas are
  • Original language is too difficult to understand (for instance, when the particular jargon or complexity of the original work is so difficult to understand that you need to paraphrase it so that the meaning is immediately clear)

To help you summarise or paraphrase:

  1. Reread the original source until you understand its full meaning
  2. Set the original aside and write your summary or paraphrase on a piece of paper
  3. Check your summary against the original – your version should accurately express all the essential information of the original in a new form
  4. Put quotation marks around anything you have borrowed exactly from the source
  5. Record the source and page number on your summary so you can reference it easily

Planning and good time management

It is important to take into consideration the amount of time an assignment will take to complete and the extent of the work involved. Do not leave it all to the last minute! When preparing for an assignment you may want to:

  • Decide on your topic early
  • Make a schedule of the steps you will need to take to complete the assignment
  • Set aside enough time to research sources
  • Write an outline in which you list the topics you will cover
  • Formulate an argument
  • Leave some time to review, edit and put together a bibliography

Systematic and accurate note-making

Systematic and accurate note-making will help you avoid plagiarism. Apply some simple 'rules' to your note-making by:

  • Separating your ideas from others. In your notes distinguish between ideas in the source, actual content (quotations) of the source and your own ideas that emerge as you are working with different sources
  • Coding each of the above using different colours, fonts, letters or numbers
  • Always recording full details of each source when you find it, such as the author, date of publication, title, publisher, page numbers, URLs etc
  • Writing notes in your own words. Do not copy the source unless you want to use a quotation and then mark it as such
  • If you choose to use a quotation, write it exactly the same as the original

Further resources on note-making can be found at Student Learning Development which also offers workshops and individual help on note-making and note-taking.

Back to top